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India at the Driving Seat: Can the Economy Become its Saving Grace?

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Opinion Piece

Narendra Modi visits Balasore Odisha, 2023 | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Source: AP

The rate at which India has been progressing lately might be surprising to some, but it has been a constant, steady economic progression. For ten years running now, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been in government, which certainly helped India’s ascent to the top. Consistent policymaking in line with the party’s core values and the induction of nationalism in foreign policy have reaped benefits for India in economic terms, even if liberal commentators are critical of PM Narendra Modi’s policies. The recently held G20 summit in India is an ideal example of India’s successful foreign policy and strategy. From being a regional force to a global powerhouse, it has been a journey for the country that has seen many highs.

At the recently concluded G20 summit, the members decided that no state can have territory by force, which is a change in stance from last year. This was done on purpose purely so that a consensus could have been reached. Credit where it’s due: India’s flexibility in assessing geopolitics is second to none. India has condemned Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine in the past but has refrained from blaming Russia directly.

Other key agreements included the US, Saudi Arabia, and India announcing a rail project to link South Asia and the Middle East, which is highly appreciated by President Biden, who sees this as a counterblow to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

India’s recent tilt toward the USA is a big geo-political development, a pivot from Russia. This represents PM Modi's pragmatic approach to India’s economic and diplomatic engagement globally. During PM Modi’s recent first state visit to the United States in nine years, we saw two powerhouses joining forces on many fronts. The bilateral trade passed $191 billion last year between the two countries, and both states indicated a promise to restore the U.S.-India Commercial Dialogue and the CEO Forum. The United States and India had already promised to improve the economy, pharmaceuticals, and trade. The constant rise in India’s economic trajectory is testimony to its influential soft power.

During the same visit, both President Biden and Prime Minister Modi expressed their desire to use the then-forthcoming G20 summit in New Delhi as a medium to confront common issues such as making headway on multilateral development banks and revamping sovereign debt affairs. All these trade agreements and deals show the momentous change in the relationship between India and the US. This shift is an undertaking for the ever-changing economic blocs but should not be taken lightly, as it comes at a time when Russia and Ukraine are still in limbo over the territorial dispute.

Recently, 150 people were killed in violent clashes in Manipur on an ethnic basis. The north-eastern state has a longstanding history of violence and state censorship since it became independent in 1947. PM Modi was heavily criticised for staying radio silent for 2 months when a hugely prominent security issue, which also happens to be in a historically volatile region, was going through a civil war-like situation.

The allegations of converting a secular India into a nationalist Hindu Rashtra do not paint the country in a progressive light. It can also be debated that much of the ruling party doesn’t think of it as a point of contention, at least domestically. Human rights organisations have fulfilled their role by doing what is required of them. And these are no one-off incidents. Christian and Muslim minorities have regularly been under enhanced scrutiny because of their faith. There were calls for a no-confidence motion against PM Modi in 2018 and 2023, respectively, which he successfully defeated. This shows how tight of a hold the BJP has gotten over not only politics but also the social fabric of rich Indian culture. Any political debate or resistance movement is labelled as anti-national and projected as an agenda against Hindu culture.

In 2020, an attack on students protesting over a fee hike was met with violence by a group closely linked to the BJP, according to Jawaharlal Nehru University students, a university that has become synonymous with left-wing politics and activism. Every now and then, protests, even at the grassroots level, are met with scare tactics and detentions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks to boost strength by showcasing India’s economic prowess as he hopes to return to power for the third time. On the political front, it seems like there is no stopping the populist leader. He enjoys support among the masses, and the opposition in Lok Sabha is merely superficial; owing more to BJP’s autocratic hegemony rather than the opposition’s lack of penchant for resistance.

The change of state name at the G20 summit from India to Bharat is an optical move to inform the world they no longer adhere to their colonial remains. However, that is just, again, optics. Try banning cricket from Bharat; now that would be the decision of someone who is not playing to the gallery but is actually convinced by his own actions.

India, at the moment, is on track to become the 3rd biggest economy on the planet by 2027, proof of India's relentless efforts to bring the nation on par with the likes of Germany and Japan. As if India were not already sitting at the big boy's table, they very well could be presiding over soon.

However, if India really believes in its diverse foundations, then the onus lies on PM Modi and his government to not only address but to take substantial measures to resolve issues revolving around religious nationalism. The performative measures by the BJP reeks of bias towards the majority, leaving a bleak stain on the promises of inclusivity.


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